Gerry Anderson dies: “We have lost our jester…”

I remember coming home in the summer of 1988 to work on a number of summer schemes in Belfast, Lisburn, Ballynahinch and Holywood with an English colleague who’d never been to Northern Ireland before.

My one insistence of the day was that I had to listen to Gerry Anderson at 10.30. It was like shot of something powerful and good in the midst of a less than good situation.

Gerry’s was more than gallows humour. It was a light drop of oul dacency, in a space and at time when and where people seemed almost determined not to think the best of each other.

In that regard, his phone-in was a safe house in the midst of the deepening madness of the late Troubles. He used wit and humour and his own ‘mongrel’ family background to traverse the communal faultlines of Northern Ireland.

His raucous style didn’t suit the English audience of Radio 4, and his sojourn there, Anderson Country, only lasted a year of middle class outrage at his upsetting the local tone with Ulster banter.

He returned to do what he did best, which was not just to be funny on the radio, but to draw his listeners out in conversations that could last up to half an hour, giving them as much of the spotlight as he took for himself.

It enabled him to raise new stories which told it like it was and stay that familiar Ulster fist of criticism by making his would be critics complicit in the joke.

It helped too that he had a hinterland experience that stretched back to before the Troubles. As such he was never entirely bound by its narrow and begrudging rules of grammar.

As Malachi O’Doherty put it on Facebook this morning “We have lost our jester”.

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